STARS Book Clubs: Building Relationships and Bettering Lives, One Book At a Time

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Ardent Authors Photo

Jason Lavender

Ardent Authors Photo

Jason Lavender

Jason Lavender

Jason Lavender

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Reading is a fundamental skill needed to thrive in the classroom and in life. Yet, a large number of children in Waco are not reading on grade level, and a new study shows the pandemic has only made things worse.

However, a local non-profit, STARS Book Clubs, is doing its best to change that and make sure every child calls themselves a reader.

Let’s learn more about how one of this year’s Charity Champion’s is helping children in Waco read and succeed, both inside and outside of the classroom.​​​​​​​ 

STARS Book Clubs: A Mission That's About More Than Just Reading

Every adult has a chance to make a difference in a child’s life, and that’s just what STARS Book Clubs aims to do. For the past nine years, volunteers from STARS Book Clubs have been mentoring Waco students and providing reading programs to encourage their literacy growth and inspire their futures. It’s why we’re proud to call them one of this year’s Charity Champions.

According to STARS Book Clubs, a shocking 69% of Waco students are not reading on grade level and 77% are economically disadvantaged.

A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is 4 times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate.

The pandemic has also added heightened stress, disruptions, and remote learning hurdles, all of which has had a devastating effect on student reading scores.

Making gains in literacy depends on support outside of the classroom just as much as it does on learning ABCs and expanding your vocabulary inside the schoolhouse.

Since 2013, the volunteers at STARS Book Clubs have provided Waco students with crucial reading and social-emotional support they need to overcome whatever hurdles they’re facing—educational or otherwise.

In Book Clubs, volunteers from churches across Waco meet weekly over lunch with students who are grouped by reading level. But, it’s not a traditional tutorial environment. Rather, they focus on a combination of reading and relationship building.

During these meetings, students talk about what’s going on in their lives, eat, and practice reading fun books aloud with their mentors. This fun, low-pressure environment allows students to grow in reading proficiency, enjoyment and confidence through the consistent encouragement and feedback of a caring adult.

Being There For Students When They Need Them Most

The volunteers at STARS Book Clubs have seen time and time again how mentors can help kids make it, despite tough circumstances. In this powerful video about a student named Valeria, you can witness how having a consistent, supportive adult influence can change the trajectory of a student’s life.

“I really didn’t like reading at all and my test results…they were not good,” says Valeria before her Book Clubs experience. Then she met her Book Clubs mentor, Julie Helton. “She’s like a mother figure. Sometimes she would put the book aside and talk about how you’re feeling. If I ever felt down she would pick me back up and give me the longest hug if I needed one,” says Valeria.

Now, Valeria is thriving in school, feels more confident, and has dreams of becoming a therapist, so that she can impact someone else’s life like Julie impacted hers. “I want to be like Mrs. Julie. I want to be that one person that child depends on,” says Valeria.

That desire to fundamentally change a child’s life by simply being there for them is one reason the STARS Book Clubs initiative is part of our Charity Champions program.

How You Can Help

The people behind STARS Book Clubs believe that by building connections we can change a child’s life for the better. It’s a belief we hope will also benefit the program as a Charity Champion this year. Through a free awareness marketing campaign, world-class leadership training, and a no-cost internship, we hope to help amplify STARS Book Club’s reach to any child who might need them.

But, being a nonprofit doesn’t come without its struggles. Like many nonprofit initiatives, they’ve seen a greater need yet fewer volunteers than normal since the pandemic started. If you want to make a lasting impact on a child’s life, consider volunteering and helping their mission grow.

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